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            I have always loved the ocean, and I am constantly amazed at the endless variety of life for which the ocean is home. Some of my first and favorite memories of the ocean involve the beautiful, mysterious creatures called rays. .
             When I was very small, I remember going to Disney World and swimming through a "lagoon" filled with stingrays and sharks. Of course, I was so terrified of getting eaten alive that I swam straight across to the other side as fast as I could and sat there waiting while the rest of my family enjoyed a leisurely adventure with the animals. Once I didn't feel like I was in mortal danger anymore, however, I too was fascinated by the stingrays. .
             Several years ago, I caught my first glimpses of stingrays in their natural environment while parasailing in Destin, Florida. From my vantage point in the sky, I watched a school of rays glide through the water in near-perfect unison, seemingly only inches away from unsuspecting swimmers. Several times since then, I have sat on hotel balconies and watched rays school through the surf, riding the waves and occasionally leaping out of the water like aquatic gymnasts. .
             Since I have enjoyed the beauty and grace of rays for years, it's probably time I learned something about them, don't you think? .
             Rays, which are most commonly found in warm, temperate ocean waters, are primarily bottom dwellers that often lie partially buried in the sand. There are 300 to 350 species of rays, which have cartilaginous skeletons and are among the largest of cartilaginous fish. Rays are categorized into four basic groups: stingrays, skates, sawfishes, and electric rays. .
             Rays are easily identified by their flattened, disk-shaped bodies; their five gill openings and mouth are found on the underneath or ventral side. The shape of the disk can vary from circular to diamond-shaped. The most distinguishing features of the ray are the wing-like pectoral fins, which rays use to swim by propelling themselves forward almost like birds.

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